It’s important to care for your teeth every day and night, and it’s even more critical if you have any systemic medical conditions. Brushing and flossing with arthritis in the hands can be painful, but avoiding daily care only leads to more pain. Ignoring oral health leads to gum disease, cavities, and even losing teeth.
Lack of dental care can also be bad for the rest of your body because of the connection between oral health and overall health, including a wide variety of systemic conditions. Learn what joint inflammation has in common with gum disease and tips for an oral health routine that accommodates arthritis pain.
ORAL BACTERIA, RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS, AND JOINT PAIN
Researchers have found a significant relationship between our mouths and our joints. One study found that the fewer teeth a person has, the greater their risk is for joint inflammation. Patients with fewer than 20 teeth had eight times the risk of swollen joints as someone with all their teeth.
According to the National Arthritis Foundation, studies like this are part of the growing body of research linking periodontal disease (gum disease) with rheumatoid arthritis. Another study from the late ’90s found that people with moderate to severe periodontitis face more than twice the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than someone with even mild periodontitis.
Periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis have this in common: inflammation. Inflammation in the body can lead to inflammation in the mouth. Likewise, chronic inflammation from gum disease can impact overall health, leading to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Poor dental health increases the bad bacteria in the mouth. This can lead to bacterial infection in the blood stream, impacting the heart. Maintaining oral health will help preserve overall health and needs to be done even with arthritis pain.
BRUSHING AND FLOSSING WITH ARTHRITIS
Brushing and flossing problems are so common for people with joint inflammation that the UK National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society has an entire webpage dedicated to dental care with arthritis. Use these tips to ease the process of brushing and flossing:
- Use an electric toothbrush. This helps by doing the brushing work for you, and the larger handle is easier to grip than a traditional manual toothbrush.
- Wrap the grip of a toothbrush to make it larger and slip resistant. If gripping something tightly is an issue, there are toothbrush accessories made just for this purpose.
- Sit while brushing. This lets you rest an elbow on the counter for support.
- Use a hand-held flosser, which works well for people with joint pain or dexterity issues. Hand-held flossers range in size from the smaller “interdental” flossers to flossers with long handles and disposable flossing ends. Another way to replace the string altogether is an electric flosser that uses water or mouthwash to blast the plaque away.
Talk to your dentist to find what best suits your needs. And remember, it’s still important to brush even if you have dentures.
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*Updated April 2021